Lady Vols return to practice court

When the Lady Vol players and coaches emerged from the locker room Tuesday after a film session, a full male practice squad was already waiting on the court for the first time since the holiday break. Their presence was felt immediately and welcomed by the staff because of the way they elevate play on both ends.

"Physicality, going to be quicker, going to be a little more competitive," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "Playing against each other is fine because we do compete, but it's different now because it's our whole team against them. It's them against us, as opposed to us dividing the team in half, so to speak, and sometimes you switch people back and forth, so one minute I'm playing with you, next minute I am playing against you.

"Whereas with the practice guys, I am playing with you all the time and we are playing against those guys. There is definitely an us against them. It just takes on a more competitive flavor. And then for the obvious reason you cannot simulate the size, strength, athletic ability, quickness (of the guys). You can't do it. It's not the same."

For example, the coaches have emphasized some drills to improve rebounding, specifically box-outs, but Lockwood said last week he knew what was needed.

"It was going to be hard to really improve our rebounding until our practice guys come back," Lockwood said, because the coaches can instruct the guys to be physical and "get every rebound you can."

When the Lady Vols are split into groups, Glory Johnson doesn't really face anyone athletic enough to keep her off the boards, outside of Vicki Baugh when she is cleared for a full-go session, so having the male practice squad means Johnson goes against someone stronger and quicker than she is.

When the players go against each other it can also get a little rowdy. That was especially true when the ultra-competitive Candace Parker, Nicky Anosike and Alexis Hornbuckle became opponents, a situation made even more rambunctious when the talkative Shannon Bobbitt arrived.

"They got a little chippy," Lockwood said, smiling at the memory. "When you've got a high level of competitors that's what happens. It wasn't fun for them. It wasn't particularly fun for us because they got more into it that they forgot about what they were doing almost."

During one of those bygone sessions, a smiling Pat Summitt blew the whistle and ended the drills to restore peace. With the 2010-11 team the fireworks are still more likely to come from the coaches, even after 65-point and 40-point home wins in the SEC.

"Let's not get too happy about it," Summitt said Tuesday at practice. "Every day is a new day. Every game is a new game. But I am pleased with the depth that we have and I think we're doing a great job of understanding roles now. ... Who knows what's going to happen next?"

Practice began with a film session of the Ole Miss game that focused on areas of improvement.

"We showed them film clips of when we're not rebounding and blocking out and some of our ball screen defense," Lockwood said. "We weren't ripping them but we were saying, ‘Is this good enough to beat Baylor if we play them again?' Is this good enough to beat UConn? Is this good enough to beat Stanford at Stanford next time? Is this good enough to beat Duke?'

"We can just go down the list, Texas A&M, whoever, the point is we're going to have to beat a lot better teams than what we've played the last couple of games. No disrespect to those two teams whatsoever, but we know there are better teams that we have to beat to go to a Final Four. So until we see the things that are going to beat those teams and it happens every possession, every play, every game, we're not happy. So, we're not satisfied."

The team had been scheduled for an off day Tuesday, but Monday's snowstorm closed the campus and the staff decided to wait a day to reassemble the team. Spring semester classes start Wednesday – thus the practice guys are back in town – and the campus streets and sidewalks were cleared of snow. By Tuesday, Sunday's 86-46 win over Ole Miss was also an afterthought, as was last week's demolition of Alabama, 110-45.

"The worst mistake any team can make, if you allow yourself to rest on laurels and especially you beat teams that right now aren't in first place, so without disrespecting them whatsoever – you respect everybody we play – you tell your kids, ‘What have you done?" Lockwood said. "We did what we were supposed to do. We won big at home.'

"If you sit there and let yourself be puffed up and everybody is back-slapping you, that is the biggest mistake you can make. You're headed for disaster. We don't want to go there."

Tennessee will return to practice Wednesday for a scouting session and then head to Gainesville, Fla. – the temperatures are expected to be in the 40s, which is still 20 degrees warmer than the Knoxville area – by charter flight. Tennessee, 15-2, and Florida, 12-5, square off Thursday at 7 p.m. Eastern (CSS).

The Gators are 1-5 on the road, 3-0 at neutral sites and 8-0 at home this season.

"Florida is always tough," Summitt said. "I am excited about it. It's time to get on the road and see if we're really the real deal. I feel good about it. You've always got to pack your defense and your boards when you're going on the road and we understand that now better than we did a year ago.

"I think it was a process. I've been pretty tough on this group intentionally because what have they won? Not much of anything."

The latest player to get an earful from Summitt was junior guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen, who has moved to power forward to start the game – she will also shift to the wing during the game, depending on combinations – and has been rather quiet of late, especially on offense.

"I challenged Shekinna Stricklen, and I thought she really stepped up," Summitt said.

Stricklen attacked from the opening tip Sunday and scored 18 points, eight over her average, and grabbed 13 boards, seven over average.

"She said, ‘You need to step it up to another level,' " Stricklen said. "She's a great coach, and I respect that. I did exactly what she said, and I have to bring that every game."

Summitt rattled off a few more names Tuesday while talking to television and generally praised her team.

"Kelley (Cain) has been playing well," Summitt said. "Glory (Johnson) on the inside. Guard play has been good. Meighan Simmons has been a great addition. Angie (Bjorklund) had some not-so-good shooting nights and there's one thing that can fix that and that's get in the gym.

"I think we've done that. I think Taber (Spani) has done it. I think across the board this team has the type of focus that it takes to win championships."

Summitt also said she was inclined to keep bringing Johnson off the bench.

"Right now, yes," Summitt said. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Glory has been playing super. Is she worthy of starting? Absolutely. It's my decision because I like her watching and coming off the bench. Sometimes when she starts she's a little overanxious. When she can watch the action and then go in, that's when she's at her best."

Through three SEC games against LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss, Tennessee is shooting 51.1 percent overall and averaging 89.7 points per game. Rebounding and defense have been emphasized by the coaches – Tuesday was no exception – and so far the message is getting through as the Lady Vols' three conference opponents have averaged 52.0 points, and Tennessee's rebounding margin is +12.7.

"To reach our goal we're going to have to reach it as a team," Stricklen said. "Everyone has to commit to defense. Everyone has to commit to boxing out and rebounding. Those are the main two things. If everyone does that we have a lot of scorers on this team so offense is really not a big deal.

"We're feeling good. I feel like everyone is starting to click. We're playing together as a team. I think inside game and outside are really working good right now. I just hope we keep it going."

VIDEO COVERAGE: Video clips from Tuesday's practice and an interview with Dean Lockwood, a Michigan native who is used to snow.


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